This is the first in a series of mystery stories that will be available on BayToday by local authors. You will find the next installment under the "Columns" tab on our main page.
Colour bled back into his world. Slowly, piecemeal. Each sense added its own two cents. The wind whipped the pines back and forth blowing the smell of sap and summer camp through a small square window to his right. The wood under his hands moved in liquid rolls that turned his stomach and pushed acrid bile onto his taste buds. A cicada screamed its metallic drum close by and he opened his eyes. The chair he was tied to bit splinters into his hands. It creaked and shifted each time a wave lapped against the hull.
The tied man began to work at the ropes. Too groggy to fully accept the panic that rolled around his gut like last night’s steak. Whoever tied the knots was no boy scout. He wriggled his left ankle out and flexed his wrists against the ropes while the chair continued to protest. He rode the next wave and, as it crested, slammed the heel of his chukka boot into the wood floor.
His world pitched and he landed with a snap staring at an oil stain creeping from a can under a table. He felt the ropes around his wrists loosen at the cost of a few splinters in his arm. He slapped dirt from his denim overalls and pushed his wet bangs out of his eyes. He looked through the doorway beside the window while he fumbled with his right ankle. The wind in the trees and his thoughts was all he heard.
Above his clawing need to be free was a deep panic in being where he wasn’t welcome. That he was trespassing against some ancient warning slated against him in a past life, but by who, he had no idea. Along with the warning came the cold realisation that his memories before being tied to a chair were a ragged blur, and he had no idea who he was.
He stood and rubbed the back of his head, wincing at a goose egg forming. Someone had clocked him good, and saw fit to get rid of him, why? On the table to his left was a set of keys and a .45 Colt missing the clip. The pewter key chain put recognition just out of reach in his brain so he pocketed them and grabbed the pistol for insurance. He clomped through the door onto a paint-peeled dock. Rusty nail heads stuck up from boards that shifted under his weight splashing blue water over his brown boots. He walked past a wheelbarrow with two shovels laid over a white sheet. He paused, he didn’t need all his marbles to recognize the ingredients to a shallow grave.
The dock led up a hill covered in pine needles. A shed that looked ready to fall over perched at the top. Fingers of sweat ran down his back as the ground levelled out. He heard voices speaking with the easy rhythm of a couple working Joes on coffee break. He hesitated, seconds crawled. Maybe that’s all this was, some kind of accident on the job.
Sure, an accident. Lotta guys accidentally tie themselves to a chair after getting decked. He pushed the thought away as he stepped into the cool shade. A sandy-haired man carrying chains almost ran into him. Both men mirrored each other’s surprise before the amnesiac saw the walnut grain of a revolver tucked into the guy’s waistband.
“Hey, what-” sandy hair stammered before the amnesiac landed a left hook into his breadbasket followed by a right cross that dropped the guy, his nose snapping like weak timber. He looked past a metal still as the two on break turned toward the ruckus. One pitched a cigarette butt and went for his waistband while the other levelled a Thompson machine gun. That was all the amnesiac needed to see before bolting into the woods racing ricochets and splinters.
He veered to his right and waited for the hot sting that would drop him. Branches snapped and clawed at his face and arms, slashing small nicks that mixed blood with sweat.
Behind him the bootleggers gave chase. Their shouts soon dwindled to silence, but he figured guys with guns didn’t give up so easily. His mind raced. He had puzzle pieces with no picture, with a new piece parked on the side of the road that cut through the woods. A forest green Roadmaster blended with the cedars around it. He suddenly remembered keying off the ignition and setting the parking brake, though when that was stayed fuzzy. His keys slid into the lock and he dropped into the smell of disturbed dust and hot leather. His eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, then to the glove box where he hoped for one answer to his ten questions.
Underneath a beat-up camera, half a roll of Certs, and the Buick owner’s manual was a private detective license. He read the name printed on it and his lights came on a little more. Eddie Banner, license number 304962. He looked under the sun visors hoping to get lucky again. A snapshot fluttered into his lap from the driver’s side. There was small cursive writing clumped together on the back of it that made his heart hammer. Something in his head screamed to leave it alone, that things would be a lot better off if he didn’t flip the photo over.
When he turned it over the rest of the world fell away and he couldn’t take his eyes off the angel in sepia. She had piercing eyes behind cat eyeglasses, and she smiled like she was in on a joke he hadn’t heard. Her dark hair fell in ringlets under a beret and she held a typewriter outside a brickwork office building. The cursive read: Century City Tribune June 6th 1939.
Her first article.
He knew that but couldn’t place her name. The same way he knew the long slow blade of heartbreak plunging through him at the sight of her. She was important, she was in trouble. His breath waltzed with his heartbeat until he felt like he’d pass out.
His side mirror exploded slamming him back into the moment. The guy with the Thompson crawled out of the woods behind his pal with the pistol. Eddie keyed the ignition and stomped the gas, scattering the gunmen and spraying gravel in a U-turn.
His head raced his heartbeat trying to piece it all together. His scarred knuckles white on the wheel. A dot on the horizon materialised into an Esso station as he pushed the Roadmaster up to 80. At the last minute, he pulled off and bounced through the parking lot in a cloud of dust that hung in the still summer air.
Eddie pulled around the back of the station and got out, listening for car brakes. He popped the trunk and found a navy blue coat with his wallet inside. A young man’s face floated up from the abyss of his busted brain. The face was thin with Eddie’s same lantern jaw, but his father's dark eyes. Eddie felt his stomach drop remembering his brother in uniform, waving from the deck of a battleship.
He tossed the coat back and pocketed his wallet. At a burger stand in front of the Esso he chewed through a cheeseburger watching spurts of traffic go by. A sign on the dirt shoulder showed two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Painted white letters read Huntsville to the left, and Century City twenty three kilometres to the right. Eddie considered the sign as he drank a cream soda, the wind blowing his paper burger wrapper across a picnic table etched with heart bordered initials and body limericks.
Century City, the place that held his forgotten life, gave him a rash of goosebumps. If he wanted answers then that’s where he had to go. He wondered if it was even worth knowing. Someone planned his burial today and he had no idea why. Here was his chance to drop it, forget the woman in the picture and run from the heartbreak and hard luck he was sure to find. He knew his name, hell, that plus the clothes on his back were enough to start over down south.
Eddie finished the soda and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. He placed the bottle sideways on the worn wood table and spun it, letting fate decide. His blue eyes watched it slow to a stop pointing to the right. He let out a long sigh, he didn’t feel much like a runner anyhow.
Eddie Banner had taken a few hits. And, as he keyed the Roadmaster to life and pulled out of the Esso. He figured he’d take a few more before he got to the bottom of the woman in the picture and whoever wanted him in an early grave. The radio played over his thoughts as he reasoned out his next move, and guessed at the fate pulling him to the streets of Century City.
Eddie’s story continues in the next installment of Second Saturday Stories March 27, 2021.